Exclusive: Safiq's mission to win back fans and restore Malaysian pride

Safiq also expressed his hope that Vingada is given time, saying his methods may be different but the players need to adapt.

“He has been OK … it’s really a new phase and we can’t predict how things will be, whether it was a local or a foreign coach.

"We need to play, give our full cooperation and receive his instructions well. Being together is very important.

Safiq has an incredible collection of team and individual awards

“Training has gone well and we’re getting used to him as much as he is to us. The international level is of a higher standard than domestic football.

"Our job is to follow Vingada’s guidance and put everything into practice. We need to approach every game with a positive mindset.”

Qualifying will be tough, but not impossible

On paper, Malaysia are in for a huge battle to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

The Tigers are No.155 in the FIFA rankings, with Lebanon and North Korea favourites to finish top two in their group.

Going by Malaysia’s poor form over the past year, which coincided with Safiq’s retirement and some other surprising omissions, they face an uphill battle.

Yet with new surroundings, Safiq remains optimistic of qualifying for what he says could be his last attempt to play in the Asian Cup.

Malaysia haven’t qualified on merit for the tournament since 1980.

“Playing in the Asian Cup is among the desires I have and truth be told, it may be my last. I’m turning 30 in July and will be 32 when the tournament comes around,” he said.

“It’s a tough challenge ahead but it is not impossible if we stick together. We have to feel proud of the national team and everyone here wants the Asian Cup slot.”

Kedah have secured two of JDT's trophies this season

Southern Tigers still far from satisfied

Turning to club football, Safiq’s JDT side hasn’t been at its best in 2017, knocked out by Ceres Negros in the AFC Cup and losing its Sultan Ahmad Shah Cup and FA Cup titles, which were both won by Kedah.

But the midfielder certainly hasn’t been at fault, despite losing the Southern Tigers’ captaincy. The former Selangor trainee is the leading local goalscorer in the Malaysia Super League (MSL) with eight goals, ading 11 assists in all competitions.

“My form at JDT has been inspiring and that is something I want to bring to the national team,” said Safiq.

“After the international break, I will go back to JDT and strive to continue my form. We have lost two trophies already but we are six points ahead in the MSL and that is where our focus will be. There are nine games left and we cannot bottle it.

“This is not merely a transition (after the departure of Mario Gomez, Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Juan Martin Lucero). We are never satisfied with success at JDT and want to win trophy after trophy.

“The AFC Cup defeat will fire us in the second half of the season. We must use that experience and keep the MSL trophy in Johor Bahru for a fourth straight year.”

Photos: Asiana.my